The Value of the Social Sciences for Maximizing the Public Benefits of Engineering

See on Scoop.itDual impact of research; towards the impactelligent university

Three recent projects illustrate the benefits of bringing a social sciences perspective to engineering innovation.

Since the early 1900s, engineering professional societies have established codes of ethics to ensure that their members maintain a high level of professionalism (Pfatteicher, 2003). The premise is that because engineers are entrusted with special knowledge, they have a duty to use that knowledge in the public interest. In their codes, these societies outlined some of those duties and shared them with the world. Since those early efforts, a number of additional strategies for defining and propagating ethical engineering have been developed, such as textbooks, courses, and even a Division of the American Society for Engineering Education dedicated to the topic (Herkert, 2000).

Many of these later efforts have focused on ensuring that engineers do no harm by calling attention to specific temptations (e.g., cutting corners, skimming a little profit off the top, or passing the buck). Ethical issues are also often presented as dilemmas about balancing the good and the bad. For instance, is it ethical to forge data to justify a decision that one knows is the right thing to do? Should one ensure a level of safety higher than is legally required? If the only way of building a water purification system in a developing country is to abide by local customs and bribe officials, should one pull out the wallet or abandon the project? Issues like these, which have been called micro-ethical questions (Herkert, 2005), are often framed as arguments against lying, cheating, or stealing by engineers.


nice examples with focus of the impact of social sciences:

A Broad View of Ethics

Gaining Perspective with Social Sciences

Designing for the Blind

Regulating Emerging Technologies



Jameson M. Wetmore

The bridge

Fall 2012, volume 42, number3


See on


About Wilfred Mijnhardt
RMIMR is my virtual playground, a place to reflect on issues from my professional context, my job as Policy Director at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). RSM is the international university based business school at Erasmus University Rotterdam. More info here: Here is my list of relevant publications on the topic of my RMIMR weblog: The rss feed for my RMIMR collection is here: Here is my other weblog on impact of research:

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